Friday, January 7, 2011

The Fighter - Theatrical Review

Release Date: December 17, 2010

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 7:40 pm December 31, 2010
Projector Type: Digital

Loves: Christian Bale, inspirational films
Likes: Amy Adams, Mark Wahlberg
Neutral: Sports films
Hates: Boxing in general

I don't know how or why I never got the connection to sports that everyone else in the world seems to have but for some reason I just can't get excited for random people that I do not know playing a particular game. I need some sort of connection to even be interested, I need to care beyond just caring that the person I choose to root for has won or lost. If I had even one person I knew in my personal life that was in the middle of a tense football game I would have no problem getting into that particular moment, but take that connection out and I could really give a shit. However, sports films usually give me that connection I crave for in real life. If done right I get to know the person playing the sport and have an actual reason to cheer them on or at the very least understand them.

David O' Russell's The Fighter is just such a sports film which I feel does exactly that and as a result I ended up getting completely engrossed in it. This is the true story of two brothers, Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and their attempt to make it big in the world of boxing. At the outset we see the younger brother Mickey knee deep in training for his next fight along side his older brother and trainer Dicky as an HBO documentary crew follows the duo all around their local town of Lowell, Massachusetts. The film crew is following Dicky around due to his fall from grace, although Dicky thinks they are there to document his comeback as he trains his brother. Dicky had made his mark in the boxing world some years ago when he knocked down the one and only Sugar Ray Leonard (although there are those that say he tripped and Dicky had nothing to do with it). While Dicky most certainly stood out and has garnered much of the attention he wasn't the only thing that hooked me in.

Mickey and Dicky sparring before the big fight.

I suppose what really won me over was the whole family dynamic at play here. Mickey's family is an odd and colorful bunch. Dicky is the oddest of them all for sure. He is seen as the "Pride of Lowell" by everyone in town because of his Sugar Ray fight and he takes that fame to heart. As those documentary cameras follow him around he isn't shy to ham it up. His hyper nature though is mostly a result of his drug abuse problem which isn't really as much of a secret as Dickey (and his mother) thinks. He is probably the most tragic character in the whole film. It is real easy to laugh at his antics, every time Mickey or their mother Alice (Melissa Leo) drop in at his crack house it is a riot, but what you are really doing is laughing at a man that has seriously lost his way and himself. He is still trying to live his former life through his younger brother and never realizes the amount of damage he is doing to him or his little daughter.

His situation and Mickey's isn't helped by their mother's actions either. She is the manager of the two brothers and has thus far only been able to set up fights for Mickey that almost never end well. She clearly loves the limelight just as much as Dicky and just like him she is using Mickey to help propel her own agenda. The key example of this is when they arrive in Las Vegas for the fight Mickey had been training for when we first met him. They are told the fighter has gotten ill and unless they want to go home empty handed (no pay) Mickey must get in the ring with an unknown fighter that has a 20 pound weight advantage over him. Instead of protecting Mickey both Dicky and Alice decide to persuade him to get in the ring knowing full well what will happen. Mickey agrees and takes the beating then goes back home to a town that was expecting a heroes return of sorts.

Charlene has her share of problems but she is still a strong willed woman.

Ashamed, Mickey locks himself away in his small apartment until he is ready and able to face everyone that HE thinks is disappointed in him. The one light in this darkness for him though is Charlene (Amy Adams), a woman he met that works at his local bar just before leaving for the fight. He had promised her a night out when he got back but that of course never happened. Luckily for Mickey, Charlene isn't the type of woman that likes to be stood up and she practically hunts him down for answers. She then forces him to live up to his promise and when they go out on their date he takes her to a small art house theater outside of town to see a lovely foreign film that his road crew recommended to him. Charlene sees right through that and attempts to dig deeper for answers about what the hell is going on with him.

Which leads me into another aspect I quite liked about the film which is the whole Charlene angle. You see, Mickey doesn't only have to deal with his mother and drug addict brother but he also has about nine sisters that all sit around the house and pass judgement on anybody and everybody that crosses their paths. Their world is a closed one and when Charlene enters the picture they jump on her like lions on a fresh kill. The scene where she finally meets the whole family seems more like an inquisition than an introduction and I just love how they all keep calling her an MTV girl (this story takes place during the 1980's by the way). What I love about her character though is that she is there to give Mickey what he has always needed, support and somebody looking out for his best interests. She doesn't take any shit from anybody and has no qualms about slinging it right back at them. Don't even get me started on the amazing showdown on Charlene's porch with her versus all nine sisters (probably my favorite scene in the whole movie). She proves Mickey isn't the only one that can throw a punch and proves that she is my kind of woman.

Mickey weighs in for the fight of his life.

As great as her character is though this is still the story about Mickey. Mark Wahlberg doesn't exactly enter any new ground here. That's not to say the character isn't interesting but he kind of plays it the same way he did in stuff like Invincible. His quiet boyish charms and delicate nature are starting to become a little tiresome and quite honestly if it weren't for the strong cast he has supporting him here I probably wouldn't have been so positive on the film. Yes I know, this is a true story and he is based off a real person but that doesn't stop me from being distracted by his performance. It isn't a bad one at all but I can't say he is the real star here. I really hate to jump on the bandwagon here but that award must go to Christian Bale and his transcendent portrayl of Dicky.

Bale has always been a sort of method actor transforming himself not only mentally but physically for whatever the role demanded. When you see how he looks in something like The Machinist and see how he turned himself from that skin and bones version of himself into Batman within just a couple of weeks you can't help but be blown away by this guys dedication. I personally have been a fan ever since his debut in Steven Spielberg's classic Empire of the Sun. But here he goes again, dropping a ton of weight to give that cracked out look and his mimicry of the real Dicky Eklund looks to be dead on (we see a quick glimpse of Dicky in the end credits). I guess maybe that is my only gripe with all the praise he has been getting for this role, he didn't really create any character here, he just recreated (perfectly I might add) the mannerisms and speech of a very eccentric person.

Dicky gets himself into some bad situations.

I still think he deserves the praise but I honestly thought someone like Ryan Reynolds in Buried showed me more of a passionate and heartfelt performance. While I would love to believe he would get the praise he deserves it just isn't in the cards (just like Sam Rockwell being robbed last year for Moon). Dicky was the most interesting character in this film and Bale knocked it out of the park, especially during his more subtle moments near the end of the film, but he is such a great actor that I can't bring myself to say he deserves the Oscar for this. Maybe a nomination but that is as far as I would go with it.

The other actor I thought stole the film out from under Mark Wahlberg was Melissa Leo as Mickey and Dicky's mother. Man, she is just one of those people you love to hate. You know she is a conniving and self centered bitch but you can see she truly thinks she is being sincere when saying she is doing something that is best for her kids. She has blinders on to Dicky's condition, even when she continuously finds him jumping out the back window of the local crack house to hide from her. She keeps trying to set up more fights for Mickey despite him telling her that he is done with it. Melissa Leo does all of this so perfectly that I didn't think she was acting it and her confrontations with Amy Adams are priceless. In the end she just wants her kids to be happy and unfortunately she goes about it in all the wrong ways.

Charlene and Mickey fight the odds and his family.
Oh, and yes there is some boxing going on here as well. I haven't talked much about it because I truly found all the fighting to be my least favorite part of the film and I believe I sufficiently explained my point of view as to why at the beginning of this review. It is all done competently enough and Wahlberg most certainly has the proper physique for the job. I did get caught up in the fights though and found them to be fairly engaging. I wanted to see Mickey rise from the ashes of his brother's legacy and become his own person. I have to give praise to everyone involved though because without those connections to all the characters that are built up through the film I wouldn't have cared one way or the other if Mickey win or lost that final fight. Just like Charlene and the other folks he found around town to help him get there I truly got caught up in Mickey's life and wanted him to succeed.

I really enjoyed the hell out of this film and out of the two films I saw this day (Black Swan being the other) I found this to be the superior and more fulfilling experience. You get some great characters and great performances with a lot of heart to its narrative. The fact that it is all based off a true to life success story makes it that much sweeter. Anybody looking for an uplifting and well made drama with some boxing thrown into the mix should most definitely....



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